Saturday, January 4, 2014

Letter From Israel


Some good news. Elinor is back after major (and successful) knee revision surgery. You don't realise how much you miss knees ... until you lose one.
  elinor        אלינור   

Medical Report

After only 6 years, one of my knee replacements failed.  My leg began to stick out at a slightly grotesque angle and I was advised to find a surgeon who does revision surgery.  Do you think that’s easy?  The knee surgeons are listed only as knee surgeons, so I consulted the nearest one.  Oh I wouldn’t touch that knee with a pole, he said.  Goodbye, I said.

Number 2 said Yes, you need revision surgery—but I don’t do that.

I entered the office of the third surgeon with an attitude close to hostile:  Hello, I said, I have a question for you.  The wrong answer is going to make your next patient very happy, because I will be outta here in a flash.  He smiled.  Do you do revision knee surgery?  Yes, he said, that forms the majority of my practice.  I sat down.  Only problem was, he did not do that surgery at the small, private hospital I liked. He needed the massive, state hospital in Tel Aviv ‘where the operating rooms are big enough for my whole team’.  Oh my God.

Really ready for repair, I dashed through the acquiring-a-pile-of-papers routine and nailed down my operation date.  Trouble was, it wasn’t.  It was a date for a thorough physical assessment, the best I’d ever had.  When I passed all the  tests the resident who was in charge of the process said he was glad, because  they would learn a lot from my operation.  Deal with that...

The operation date was delayed by one day because ‘they need to film for TV’ in my operating room.  I later saw a photo of it in the newspaper.  Vast.  The actual operation flew by without my hardly noticing, except for one phenomenon:  Almost everyone spoke Russian.  And almost all the Russians spoke English.  We’re baaaack.

I regained consciousness in a room beside a curtain from which protruded a badly broken ankle, screwed into a cage.  The owner of the ankle was in earnest conversation with a couple of people. I immediately decided to not find out how many kids or grandkids she had, how the ankle was damaged or in fact anything else about that side of the curtain.  Don’t know why; seemed like a good idea.  Also, she had the only TV—with earplugs—and I was enjoying the quiet.  I had a stack of books on my bedside table which, as my mother once said when I began that habit, would kill me if they fell on me.  That’s how I like it and I didn’t miss the TV at all.  From then on we kept our side curtains at a respectful level of closure.

Apparently there were two sons, one who floated past me every morning, brought her coffee and quietly did her bidding until one or the other got fractious.  After a quiet argument, he floated out, ignoring me as I did him.

The other son bounced in less frequently, always said hello to me, then immediately crossed swords with Mum.  One evening he, a female relative and Mum all talked simultaneously for several hours.  As he left he apologised for the noise.  I didn’t mind, I said, but tell me this:  If everyone talks at once, who listens?

The days went by in assorted clouds of pain, usually instigated by hospital personnel who just wouldn’t leave us alone—blood technicians, physiotherapists, nurses changing bandages, surgical rounds...

The one interruption no one enjoyed was mealtime.  In this hospital, twice a day, a hard-cooked egg, yesterday’s chopped ‘fresh’ veg and a tiny container of what’s called cream cheese.  And a cup of eshel, which is a nice basic yogurt drink if you shake it to blazes before drinking it, otherwise the lumps are daunting.  And cooked cereal, over-watered and cold. The tea wasn’t bad, but I like to start my day with coffee.

Lunch was always chicken.  To be fair, one Saturday I was offered meat—just ‘meat’, what a thrill.  It wasn’t particularly good, it just wasn’t chicken.  I suppose the basic idea is to motivate the patient to move to some other source of food, ASAP.  Worked for me.

So finally I was told that I could go home when I could bend my knee 90 degrees.  SOP.  Sitting glumly at the exercise chair with a cloth rope attached to my ankle, drawn under the chair and over my shoulder, trying to get the leg to bend back, I was asked by a physiotherapist:  Do you want to go home?  Oh yes I said.  Really? Yes, yes.  One more hard-cooked egg and I’ll...and he pulled on the cloth.  Very hard.  Before that moment, I had no idea what my grandmother’s mother looked like.  I was stunned, shocked and hurt but by heaven the indicator on the side of the chair said 90°!  My surgeon walked by at that critical moment.  Ah, he said, you’ve done some wonderful work.  Do you want to go home today?  Incapable of speech, I nodded.  And so I did.

The ankle on the other side of the curtain and I were both discharged on the same day.  She left on a gurney, obviously for further surgical intervention.  I decided to yell Good luck as she rolled by.  She waved at me and wished me the same!  So it would seem that we had developed an unspoken regard for each other.  It should only be so in real life...


  1. Ha, I sleep next to book stacks like that, too. My own hospital stay was six weeks, at the age of 19, with meningitis, which ended up taking away most of my hearing, but at least didn't take either of my arms or legs (or life, for that matter), which at first it looked like it was probably going to do as well.

    I'm completely dumbfounded as to what cream cheese has to do with hard-boiled eggs and chopped vegetables, however? That's a pretty amusing, seemingly completely random pairing, if you ask me.

    1. Hi Jay, good to know I'm not the only book-stacker. As for the cream cheese, it barely resembles Philly and tastes even less like it. But if you were trying to imagine a really bad meal, you could hardly do better--especially served twice a day! Nice to hear from you. Elinor

    2. My stacks seem to grow by roughly five books every other week or so. I've recently come to believe that used book stores are all in together on a conspiracy to ensure that I do not ever even succeed in bringing the stacks down in any meaningful way, let alone actually getting through them altogether!

      Book Trader, at 2nd & Market, gets me for at least two every time I set foot inside, which is often. Port Richmond Books has been known to rob me of at least one entire Saturday afternoon every month.

      Keep writing, I always look forward to these!

  2. Hi Elinor,

    thank you so much for this piece.

    I have to say, compared to much of what we concern ourselves with around these parts, I find your contributions to be a breath of fresh air.

    Congratulations on getting out of the hospital and I very much hope that your knee recovers completely, or as close as is reasonably possible.

    You have my very best.

    1. Hi Mike, thanks. Glad you enjoy my contributions; I couldn't do what you do if my life depended on it. So you carry on fighting the good fight and I'll find some other things to complain about and hopefully amuse you. Warmest regards, Elinor